Am I ready? A logical look at avoiding the negative
This aspect is best left for sport psychologists, however in the role of a physical performance coach we sometimes have to fill that void. After all, what we say has to match what the sport psych says otherwise it can lead to confusion too.
This article is about avoiding the negative, getting around those issues coming into competition where you start to doubt yourself, and you become mentally defeated before you even step out onto the field, into the ring, or onto the track.
What I am writing here comes from experience working with sport psychologists but also experience being in tune with athletes and seeing what works and what gets a response and what does not. I use analogies a lot too because people respond to them.
Let’s keep this simple, dot points seem to be the best function here:
- Logic; stress is actually the biggest contributor to negative thought and self-doubt. Look at what you can control and not what is out of your control. When you study for an exam and you’ve entered the room you immediately begin to stress and doubt yourself… why? At that point, that very moment, everything you have done can be done, and all you have to do is complete the test. But what if it’s hard,what if I fail, what if I haven’t done enough? You ask. At that point, that very moment, you can’t change anything except your attitude to complete that test. What’s my point? There is ALWAYS something that you can do that you haven’t done, but what you need to realise for yourself is that the moment you are in competition your preparation is out of your control, but what you are about to accomplish is in your control. Control what you can, not what you can’t. Now this doesn’t come easy, you have to take steps to get to this place…
- Negativity; if you think negatively towards competition you have always doubted yourself when you started to prepare. You need to take steps to get rid of this. From the first day you prepare you NEED to know that you have control of your environment. You need to overcome fears of failure. You need to ask coaches what you can do to be a better athlete. You need to practice when you’re not practicing. There are three strategies I use and it depends on the athlete:
- Arrive early to training and practice skills, if you become good enough at a skill then you lose the need to think about the skill, which means you lose the need to think if you fail the skill. Best example: Steph Curry in the NBA. Don’t know him. Look him up.
- If something negative happens, you miss something, you didn’t get something, and you start to stress about it. Break it down. Quickly. Then repeat with improvements. Learn. Example: you’re boxing and you’ve decided to drop your rear hand slightly as you’ve gone for the jab and your opponent gets you. Repeat and correct the movement. Repeat it again. If you’re in a team sport, the coach helps with this issue.
- Imagery. I’ll cover this below.
- Imagery; you need to start this early. Take 10 – 15 minutes out of your schedule, close your eyes and then take in absorb yourself into your sport. Let’s use rugby league; start by visualising the change rooms just after warm up, the positive, intense emotions around you, the smell of strapping tap and dencorub/metsal, take yourself into the sensory world of your preparation in the sheds. You can feel the beads of sweat drip down your face as you run your strapped up wrist. You take a sip of water, and here the boys around you pumping each other up. “WOOH!” you hear one of them say. You can feel this gets you even more excited. Shaking your limbs out so you feel limber before you run onto the field, you start to feel the blood coursing through your arteries. You hear the coach bring everybody into the circle and listen to his speech.
This is the type of imagery you want to produce, then take this imagery and put it into your competition. Not just a “before competition imagery” like my above example but during the match/event as well. So you need to imagine everything that is happening. Do this once a day. It can be exhausting because you will notice once you get the hang of it you will finish the 15 minutes sweating, smiling, exhilarated. This is a very powerful tool and when used correctly just prior to competition, will eliminate negativity.
- Reassurance; sometimes you are going to be outclasses, and out skilled, but there are aspects you will be better in. Focus on these. Ensure you only focus on these, focus on what you are strong at, not what the rival is good at. Focus on you. After all, if you focus on the other person you’ll get to the point where you don’t know your own game plan. This comes back to life lessons; your time is limited, so don’t keep giving it to everybody else without first giving some to yourself. Otherwise you’ll lose sight of who you are, and only take sight of who everybody is. I think this is relative as you’ll lose sight of what your goals are in competition and focus too much on the rival.
- Goals; the last one and nice and simple. Set small goals. Don’t focus on the victory, focus on the journey. If you accomplish your little goals along the way there is no possible way you feel negative going into competition. Weekly goals; by the end of the week you will have completed all prehab sessions and not skip any. Monthly goals; by the end of the month I will be able kick 8 out of 10 conversions from the 30 out and 10 in from the sideline. Quarterly goals; I will squat 180kg x 3 reps. These achievements breed positivity and success in your mind. They will keep your overall goal in tact whilst you achieve and accomplish steps in your journey.
There are other tactics and sports psychologists will have and use however these are five tactics I believe athletes need to be aware about. It is a science that is adaptable to the person. Some people will try and outsmart psychology but you have to learn to let that go and become absorbed by the senses and allow yourself to take over your own mind.
About the Author
Kurt Vogel has been working within the Sports Industry for nearly a decade, upgrading his skills by coaching sports teams and volunteering his time and knowledge to any athlete or any team that requested or required a better understanding of the human body. He has worked and studied hard, becoming highly accredited and recognised in strength and conditioning, weightlifting and performance rehabilitation. We are proud to have Kurt on the team, at Inside Out Health Club.